Unequal maternity and paternity rights need to be reviewed

Recently-extended maternity rights are having the unintended consequence of limiting the career prospects of women and creating inequality for fathers, says the chief of the new equalities watchdog.

Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission says that there is a case for reviewing unequal maternity and paternity rights. While the extension to maternity rights should be welcomed she says, the move has also served to entrench the view that it is women who stay at home and look after the children. She adds that there is a need to explore ways of allowing more rights for fathers.

Her comments come as the commission embarks on a consultation into flexible working called Working Better that is being conducted in conjunction with Mumsnet.com and Dad Info.†

“No-one is suggesting that women should not have the rights that they have to maternity leave, what we are saying is that dads need a slice of action too,” she said.

“Since 1997, the increase in maternity leave has been dramatic and welcome. But in not allowing fathers good rights as well. I think it presents us with an inconvenient truth. Has policy on maternity leave made too may assumptions about the choices families will make and as a result entrenched the stereotype that it is women who do the caring and men who do the earning?,” she added.

“Clearly mother and baby need to be together in the early months, but what is the justification for the right to leave from six months still being seen as an issue in the main for women? At that point couldn’t it become parental leave, shared by mums and dads depending on the family circumstances? And the key is, for men, at that stage, shouldn’t it be paid? Shouldn’t dads have the right to the first 12 weeks paternity leave pad at 90% of their salary?†Should public spending be reprioritised to focus on giving real choice to every family.”